As the co-creator, star, writer, executive producer, and frequent director of HBO's pitch-black comedy Barry, Bill Hader knows that there's a considerable portion of the audience that's rooting for his character Barry Berkman to find happiness, fulfillment, self-actualization, sensitivity, and redemption on his journey from cold-blooded contract killer to hopeful actor.
But that doesn't stop Hader from torturing the titular antihero at every possible turn in the series' third season.
"He kind of is his own worst enemy in a lot of ways," Hader tells Metacritic. "You're just watching a human being make choices, and that's all I can really do."
When we reconnect with Barry in the new season, the sum of the choices he's made looks pretty bleak: Even though he successfully took out the warring mobsters, framing NoHo Hank (Anthony Carrigan) in the process and putting his former mentor and nemesis Monroe Funches (Stephen Root) on the run, his all-important relationship with his acting guru Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler) was shattered when Funches revealed that it was Barry who murdered Genes paramour Detective Janice Moss (Paula Newsome), resulting in Gene's temporary incarceration and the permanent demise of his acting studio.
Now, Barry faces the fallout — desperate to win back the faith of Gene, bitter with thoughts of vengeance — and is trying to keep his enemies at bay, all while also struggling with an existential loss of purpose. Kicking off with raw, nerve-wracking confrontations and an abundance of action, Season 3 takes Barry — and all those around him — into ever darker territory, a shift Hader compares to Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
"It's deeper, and I guess it is intense," he says, pausing to consider. "Yeah, it's pretty intense."
That intensity carries well beyond Barry's character arc to touch all of the characters this season. Winkler, who has five decades of acting credits to his name, says he was astonished at the places Gene goes in the new season.
As the acting teacher contends with the grim reality of Barry's true identity, he also finds himself considering his own long list of professional and personal infractions that have led him down his own dark path — and how he might turn things around.
"Honestly, this is the most intense work I've ever done in my entire career, starting June 30, 1970, and that's not even hyperbole, that's just the truth," he says.
Winkler points to a wildly unexpected real-world parallel to Gene's potential transformation: pop singer/reformed bad boy Justin Bieber. "He completely just all of a sudden matured, and he's completely different from that wild child that he was into this wonderful person that he is," Winkler explains.
Sarah Goldberg's character Sally is also experiencing a transformation in Season 3 of Barry. At the start of the season, she is propelled into a world of success as the creator and star of her own streaming series. But that won't come without its own complications.
"Sally was the underdog for a couple of seasons, and now her career is finally taking off, but it's sort of a case of be careful what you wish for," Goldberg says. "We're going to see her go through some very tumultuous times, and she's getting everything she wanted, but maybe it's not quite what she thought."
As Sally has to navigate both the unexpected success and unexpected drawbacks to it, it is a chance to get to know the character in a deeper way.
"She's going to have to face some hard truths about herself and her past and how she relates to other people," Goldberg adds. "She's in a real pattern of habitual behavior and she's playing out old patterns, but her veneer's starting to crack, and towards the end of the season, she's got no choice but to confront all the dark parts within."
Similarly, Season 3 goes deeper with NoHo Hank, who is now in a relationship.
"I was excited to explore this new side that we have not yet seen — this more personal side of Hank and who he is behind closed doors," Carrigan says.
Meanwhile, Funches only flirts with finding his own sense of self-fulfillment "for a second," Root says. Mostly, he remains too caught up in a dynamic with Barry that the actor likens to Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. "In the same territory as Wile E. Coyote, it's out and about," Root says of his character's journey this season.
"That's the problem with the Funches character: I don't think he can ever be really happy because in the back of his brain, he's like, 'Barry's not doing what I want!' and that's going to continue," Root adds. "Will it end well? Will it not? It all depends on his mental health — and that's going down, baby!"
All of these story developments add up to a season that the team behind the show considers to be even darker than the first two outings. But even as the body count increases and the tone shifts to be bleaker, it still has to be funny.
Cinematographer Carl Herse — no stranger to dark comedies with such credits as Black Monday and The Afterparty — says Hader's enthusiastic cinephile side informed much of their work together and how they balanced the dark with the light, referencing everything from Akira Kurosawa's Throne Of Blood to Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas to Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas.
"We talked a lot about Coen brothers films," Herse says. "And that line you're trying to ride between comedy and tragedy and what you can do visually to allow a scene to go to a place where you really feel upset or shocked or concerned for a character and then, one beat later, laugh at something that happens."
"This show has always subverted what people think it's going to be," he continues. "It's exciting to be there at this point in this story, where things are really getting dark."
Barry Season 3 airs Sundays at 10 p.m. beginning April 24 on HBO and also